We made a little 10-day tour in the Stelvio region and then spent a week relaxing by the pool in a nice house overlooking lake Lugano. We took mountain bikes in touring mode (no suspension, pannier racks and relatively skinny tyres) which made us a little slow on the road climbs but allowed us glorious technical roughstuff. We didnt do much forward planning apart from outlining the obvious road route taking in the Mortirolo, Gavia and Stelvio passes, and booking hotels. We planned alternating moving-on days with so-called rest days, for which we would make plans on the spot.
Although web information hints that Bormio is a hub of mtb activity we didnt find it easy to find information on routes in advance. We did find information online about routes near Tirano, and a leaflet is available at the tourist office. A leaflet is also available at Ponte di Legno. The routes descriptions are brief and we generally found the directions a little too brief to follow easily neither the Tirano ride nor the Ponte di Legno ride was all that much of a success. In Bormio we found more than one leaflet. Again the information is very brief and it wasnt clear how interesting the routes would be singletrack versus forest roads. We found a large and glossy brochure of routes in the wider Alta Rezia area packed with compelling, exciting photographs. [Since we didt see it on our return visit, weve scanned in a copy.] From this we found the route over the Bocchetta di Forcola. This route is marked as a mtb route on the Kompass map, but its helpful to have found information about how practicable it really is.
Routes in the Lugano-Como region are plentiful, varied and just the right technical level to be interesting and rideable. We didnt find much information locally except for a sort pamphlet for rides near Porlezza. Its from this that we found the militray road, which wed never have countenanced from the map. Later, we found out about the series of Luoghi Verticali books from Collana, which include Montain Bike Tra Lecco e Bergamo, Mountain Bike in Lombardia e Canton Ticino.
Tirano and Ponte di Legno
We flew Birmingham to Malpensa with an airline whose name we forgot, and got a bus to Milan. This is easy. Milan deserves more attention than the hours evening ramble we gave it. We took the train to Tirano in the morning. Thats easy too. The bikes were still bagged and we took a taxi. Milan taxi drivers, on the basis of two samples, are friendly and helpful. Tirano is the bottom end of the Bernina Express railway and the station end of town is full of trainloads of Swiss. The old part of town is quiet and crammed with gorgeous old palazzi. We attempted a ride but wed set off too late. The tourist offices leaflet had a very sexy photo of a roughstuff hairpin bend but we never even made it to top of the climb. It wasnt terribly well signposted despite being in Switzerland.
Tirano to Ponte di Lengo took in the Mortirolo but not via the classic route, instead climbing to the ridge direct from Tirano. So I dont know if we cheated by not taking in the really steep bits and it probably would have counted as cheating on steep bits by having a 22T chainring anyway. The opposite of cheating was shown to us on our descent by a hand-cyclist coming up the steep bends. That was impressive.
Ponte di Legnos a funny sort of place. It must be something of a ski resort in winter; in summer its full of families and it has the slight air of a seaside town in that there are a lot of people around on holiday but there is not actually all that much for them to do but stroll around town and eat ice-cream. There appears to be a fair selection of waymarked mountain bike routes, enthusiastically described in a well-produced leaflet but the reality is that they are very poorly waymarked and not all that wonderful as routes either. But we only tried the one.
In town wed seen a postcard of the Gavia old road, all roughstuff and no guard rails, and wow, of course we so much wanted to do it, so we asked around but nobody had heard of it and if there really was an alternative old route the map was keeping well secret by not allowing for any other route in the geographical constraints bar the existing road. We were somewhat baffled. Turns out all it amounts to is the section of road outside of the tunnel, but it makes a good photo, especially good for scaring parents. The Gavias a great little road and I think we forgot its nearly as high as the Stelvio in the grand reckoning of Alpine passes its one of the big boys. Its narrowness and lesser celebrity mean its quiet enough, the summit still looks like a mountain summit and yet has a decent restaurant which serves pasta with potato sauce and, somewhat unnervingly, grappa to motorists. You can buy postcards of the Giro when it snowed and also of when the Pope rode up here. We descended the steep and more spectacular side with a little regret that we hadnt gone up the hard way but it did start to rain from an enormous black valley-sized cloud so we cared more about that than inappropriate guilt. We retrieved a small amount of kudos by taking the roughstuff alternative to the valley road, a forest track with some up mixed in with the general downward trend.
The Torre dei Fraile
Stelvio village. We rode up from Stilfs village to the refuge Obere Stilfser Alm, getting lost in the process. Several times. It is a long climb anyway. From the hut, the path on the Kompass map, labelled as no.11 is marked a possible MTB route. Its a narrow singletrack skirting the upper edge of the forest and is utterly delightfully flowing, and studded with intersting and challenging tree-roots and other obstacles (not all of which we could do). The map shows the route descending in a wiggly way through the woods but the obvious route cyclists have taken stays high (no 4 on the map) and winds up on the forest road.
Bocchetta di Forcola. This we found listed as part of a longer route suggestion on the Alta Rezia booklet. Wed ridden the western side of the Stelvio on a day forecast to rain.
Lake Lugano and Lake Como
We rented a sweet little house just above Porlezza, on a road thats still giving us nightmares; our pennance for the sin of hiring a car. It would have been fine on a bike The car was an extravagance. We made as much use of it as we could bother, though driving in this region is only a pleasure if youre insane.
We didnt have great weather the first few days. We investigated a few short routes which were excellent in parts but suffered from the usual absence of signposting and wild inaccuracies in mapping. But once wed found our way around we sounded out three superb rides.
Lugano Val Colla ridge.
Ten km up the road gets you to Buggiolo. We used the car for this and we dont care. Wed done the road climb a few days ago. From here a white-road takes you to the ridge that forms the border with Switzerland. The white road was barred to motor vehicles and announced its intentions immediately by presenting us with a 1:6 wall of concrete. When the gradient relented the concrete decided we didnt need its help and turned the road over to rocks and suchlike. Halfway up theres a sturdy warm stone chapel with a grand overlook of the valley. This took ages. I asked Colin how far wed come and he said 1.6km which didnt sound very far. Wed climbed 200m, which did. The track contined slightly less severely, to the ridge and the border, where theres a refuge nearby.
The route is very well signposted and its pretty clear path of good width. The first section is superb. There are grand views all over the valley and the path has some technical interest, and shoots in and out of little side valleys. It stays high and theres not too much up and down. The second section after the Pietrarossa refuge is more straightforward and flowing. From Torrettone the corniche path continues along, but for our route we descended through the woods to Signora. This was fantastic, a huge long descent, again not too technical but great fun with some steps and tight bends.
Once at the road, finding lunch was the obstacle. There are villages but it wasnt clear which would contain lunch and although as the crow flies they arent all that far apart, we arent crows. We recklessly descended steeply to Maglio di Colla which could well have been a costly mistake but it did have a decent enough place serving gnocchi and would take Euros.
A long climb follows, but mostly on road or good track, through Cimadera towards the Pairolo refuge but turning left towards the Bocchetta S Bernardo. A lovely section in the woods, a wide track in open ground with the odd technical detail. Then a climb to the pass. We saw a handful of other riders here. The last descent to Paso S Lucio is exhilarating, fast singletrack.
Bocchetta di Nava military road.
Ridge above Bellagio. This is the last section of the long high route Como to Bellagio Dorsale del Triangulo Lariano. We got the ferry to Bellagio and rode up the road to Parco Monte San Primo. From here you take a small road towards Rifugio Martina, but signpostings a bit patchy. You follow the track, through a gate marked no-entry, then theres a nice singletrack with roots in woods. After that its mostly a gravel road until nearer the end, when the old mule road gets itself back into roots and stone steps. This was all great fun, even though there hadnt been that much of it. We had lunch at Silvios.